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Here at Cinema Blend, we haven't been shy about our admiration for the Wachowski Siblings' latest epic effort Cloud Atlas. With friend and colleague Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski dove deep into David Mitchell's supposedly unfilmable novel that encompasses six narratives in six different worlds, and somehow produced a movie that is not only one of the year's biggest cinematic spectacles, but also full of symbolism and a plethora of engaging storylines.
But beyond the adventures of the book's heroes—like Adam Ewing, Robert Frobisher, Luisa Rey, Timothy Cavendish, Somni-451 and Zachry the goat herder—Wachowski Starship and Tykwer invented new character arcs by giving their cast multiple roles over the film's extensive timelines. In doing so, they not only bolstered Mitchell's theme of reincarnation, but also created character arcs that transcend lifetimes. Below, we break down how each of these characters rise and fall in in terms of their moral values over the course of Cloud Atlas. As you might guess, this is entirely constructed of spoilers.
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Note: When a performer's role was too brief to get a good take on their character, they slid toward neutral. While we were able to find many shots of the ensemble's various roles, some proved too elusive. For these, an asterisk holds their place.
A further breakdown of the chart, from top to bottom:
Jim Sturgess: In 1849, he is Adam Ewing whose friendship with escaped slave Autua (David Gyasi) inspires him to give up his father-in-law's slave trade and join the abolitionists with his wife Tilda (Doona Bae). In 2012 he reappears as a hooligan-loving highlander who attacks Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving) to defend Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) and his friends. But Sturgess leaps to action hero status in 2144 as freedom fighter Hae-Joo Chang who frees Somni-451 (Doona Bae) and inspires her to join his rebellion that aims to end the slavery of clones. Finally in 2321, he's an Adam once again, this time Zachry's (Tom Hanks) brother, who meets a bloody end.
Doona Bae: In 1849, she plays Tilda Ewing, who rejects her father Haskell Moore's (Hugo Weaving) slave trade business and joins her husband Adam (Jim Sturgess) in the abolitionist movement. In 1973, she resurfaces as the Mexican woman (not pictured) who saves Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) and Joe Napier (Keith David) from the gun happy Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving), then makes her final appearance in 2144 as Sonmi-451, a fabricant who becomes a political activist and ultimately religious icon.
James D'Arcy: Absent from the earliest-set tale, D'Arcy debuts in 1936 as a young Rufus Sixsmith who falls hard for dramatic composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) but fails to save him from himself. But 37 years later, he saves untold lives as old Rufus Sixsmith who attempts to warn the world about a dangerous plan for a faulty nuclear power plant by whistleblowing to reporter Luisa Rey (Halle Berry). Surprisingly, in 2012, he resurfaces as the gruff and growling Nurse James who helps Nurse Noakes keep the residents of the prison-like old folks home under thumb. His arc seems to end in 2144 as the Archivist, who takes down Somni 451's life story and is suggested to defy the ruling authority by releasing her revolutionary message.
Halle Berry: In 1849, she gets little more than a featured extra role as a Maori woman that Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) sees toiling on a plantation. But 1936, she's the elegant Jocasta Ayrs who cheats on her ailing composer husband (Jim Broadbent) with his assistant Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw). Then in 1973, she's an outright hero as Luisa Rey who nobly investigates the corrupt business practices of Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) even when it puts her—and her love interest Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks)—in the way of hitman Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving). In 2012, she and Hanks romance gets little chance to blossom, though she is an Indian party guest who catches the eye of Dermot Hoggins (Hanks) before he hurls a literary critic to his doom. In 2144 she helps sow the seeds of rebellion as Ovid, a surgeon who risks his freedom to set free fabricants for the rebellion movement of Neo Seoul. Lastly, in 2321 she is the brave and brilliant Meronym, a prescient who risks her life trekking into the lost ruins of a fallen civilization in hopes of sending a distress signal she hopes will save what remains of mankind.
Jim Broadbent: First in 1849, Broadbent is Captain Molyneux who is crass and cruel, kicking the poor cabin boy (Ben Whishaw) before the watchful eyes of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess). But things grow darker in 1936 with Broadbent playing the pretentious and credit-stealing Vyvyan Ayrs who bullies, threatens and tries to steal Robert Frobisher's (Ben Whishaw) masterwork symphony "Cloud Atlas." He does not appear in the Luisa Rey section, but later reads of her life story as the cantankerous publisher Timothy Cavendish who heads an escape from the prison-like old folks home where Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving) reigns. In 2144, he plays an impoverished musician performing in the streets of Neo Seoul, and his final incarnation comes in 2321 as a prescient (not pictured) seeking a new world free from mankind's blunders.
Hugh Grant: Grant's dark arc begins in 1849 as Reverend Giles Horrox, who firmly believes women and people of color are inherently beneath him. A brief appearance in 1936 has him as the abrasive hotel heavy who prevents young Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) and Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) from having a proper goodbye. Next up in 1973, he is Lloyd Hooks, the sleek but vile businessman who knowingly puts lives at risk—and victims in the way of Bill Smoke's (Hugo Weaving) gun—for his own financial ends. His crimes are cruel but petty in 2012 as Denholme Cavendish who imprisons his brother in Nurse Noakes' (Hugo Weaving) old folks home for an old blow to his pride. But in 2144, Grant is the unsavory Seer Rhee who keeps the fabricants of Papa Song in line with brainwashing drugs, propaganda, and violence while also using his position to rape his clone slaves. This all leads to his final bloody turn as a ghoulish cannibal who is more animal than man as he slaughters the friends and family of Zachry (Tom Hanks) in 2321.
Hugo Weaving: Appearing in each era, Weaving begins as Haskell Moore, father-in-law of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) who profits from slavery in 1849. Though not pictured above, he next plays Tadeusz Kesselring, friend of Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) who is suggested to have Nazi ties in 1936. By 1973 he's a full on hitman as Bill Smoke, whose hellbent on killing Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) and anyone else who Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) needs silenced. 2012 he's a beast of a broad as Nurse Noakes, who isn't a murderer, but a bully, thief and cruel dictator of the old folks home that imprisons Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent). In 2144 he plays Boardmen Melphi, the politician who decides Somni-451 (Doona Bae) must be executed to suppress the revolution that demands fabricants (clones) should be treated the same as full-bloods (non-cloned humans). Lastly he is the epitome of evil as Old Georgie who is essentially the devil that plagues Zachry (Tom Hanks).
Tom Hanks: The long loved star begins his journey as the treacherous Dr. Goose who tries to murder Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) for his gold. Then in 1936, he's an unnamed hotel manager who gleefully blackmails Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) for his last prized possession, the waistcoat of Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy). But there's a turn for the better in 1973 where as Isaac Sachs he finds a spark of love with Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) and so chooses to help in her investigation of corporate corruption. 2012 brings a darker role as Hanks tackles the fiery tempered writer Dermot Hoggins who chucks a cruel critic off a balcony to a bloody end. Next he flexes his comedy skills as an actor (not pictured) who plays Timothy Cavendish in the biopic of his life, a movie that inspires Somni-451 (Doona Bae). Finally for Hanks, he plays Zachry the cowardly goat herder who redeems himself by saving his niece from bloodthirsty cannibals, and at long last finds lasting love with Berry's Meronym.